India and South Africa pour cold water on alternative approach to WTO talks

On the day she started her term as new WTO chief, Okonjo-Iweala faced a challenge to her vision

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED FEBRUARY 22, 2021 | UPDATED JULY 25, 2021

It’s tempting to call it a bombshell. But the warning signs have been around for some time. Nevertheless a new paper from India and South Africa signals a tough ride for the new head of the World Trade Organization’s ambitions to drive negotiations forward.

The paper criticises negotiations involving only part of the WTO’s membership. They are called “plurilaterals” and are seen as a way of breaking deadlock when consensus is elusive.

Continue reading “India and South Africa pour cold water on alternative approach to WTO talks”

The WTO’s deadlock over an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19

Questions and explanations about why the waiver is proposed, why it’s opposed and what it would mean

Update: In a remarkable turn-around on May 5, 2021, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced the US would support the waiver and negotiate based on a proposed text. The press release referred only to COVID-19 vaccines, not other products. Tai said:

This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures. The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protection, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines. We will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) needed to make that happen. Those negotiations will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved.

“The Administration’s aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible. As our vaccine supply for the American people is secured, the Administration will continue to ramp up its efforts — working with the private sector and all possible partners — to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution. It will also work to increase the raw materials needed to produce those vaccines
.”

More:
• After the May 2021 revised draft: WTO COVID-19 waiver: does the new draft move the talks forward?
• After the US announcement: The proposed COVID-19 intellectual property waiver: too soon to predict

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 17, 2020 | UPDATED JULY 25, 2021

A petition with almost a million signatures was delivered to the World Trade Organization on December 9, 2020, calling for the WTO “to urgently ensure access to lifesaving Covid-19 vaccines, treatments and equipment for everyone in the world”.

We can overlook the fact that the WTO has no power to “ensure” anything of the kind. What the petition aimed to do was to support a proposal to waive WTO intellectual property rules temporarily where related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The delivery was timed for the discussion the following day when members met as the Council for Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (the TRIPS Council). Since then, the proposal has gone nowhere.

Continue reading “The WTO’s deadlock over an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19”

A ‘WTO-deal’ Brexit? Video and text

I’d never heard of a ‘WTO-deal’ Brexit — until recently. What does it really mean? And does Brexit change it?

 

video iconAvailable as a video (4’40”) on YouTube

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JUNE 17, 2019 | UPDATED JUNE 17

“Mr Speaker, can I welcome the Prime Minister ruling out a second referendum, and ruling out revoking article 50 and leaving a WTO — whether managed or not — deal on the table.”

— Kate Hoey MP,
House of Commons, January 21, 2019

A “WTO deal”. The phrase is spin used to camouflage the negativity of calling it “no deal”. But that’s what it is: no deal between the UK and EU.

We can question if “WTO deal” actually means anything in terms of a relationship between the UK and EU.

Usually the phrase refers to deals struck in negotiations within the WTO, as we shall see. That’s why many claim that for Brexit, it’s nonsense. A “WTO-deal” Brexit doesn’t exist.

Let’s be charitable and assume it might exist. If so, what would it mean? Not much. Continue reading “A ‘WTO-deal’ Brexit? Video and text”

Update: the three essential tasks for the WTO’s trade facilitation deal

A year ago, two-thirds of the WTO’s membership had ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement, activating it in the ratifying countries. What’s happened since then?

By Peter Ungphakorn
FEBRUARY 22, 2018 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 22, 2018

A year ago today, the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement took effect in the ratifying countries amid a blaze of publicity, two decades after it was first proposed.

It was the first new WTO agreement since the late 1990s and its potential benefit was huge, particularly for implementing countries and particularly if their own procedures for handling imports and exports at the border were cumbersome. Continue reading “Update: the three essential tasks for the WTO’s trade facilitation deal”

Hard work lies ahead now that the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement has been activated in 112 countries

Reaching agreement was one test of multilateralism. Making it work will be another

Cape Town: South Africa is one of 51 countries that have not yet ratified the agreement


By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED FEBRUARY 25, 2017 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 28, 2017

It’s always tempting, when a tough negotiation has concluded, to breathe a sigh of relief and proclaim “job done”. But with trade agreements, the job is rarely done. For the World Trade Organization’s shiny new Trade Facilitation Agreement, seriously hard work lies ahead if it is to achieve its potential. Continue reading “Hard work lies ahead now that the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement has been activated in 112 countries”

Can EU law really dictate World Trade Organization rules?

This is a genuine question. I don’t know the answer. Hopefully some lawyers can help explain why the WTO and EU are trying to dodge the question of how to count the organisation’s members

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 1, 2016 | UPDATED DECEMBER 1, 2016

If you visit the WTO website today, bang in the middle of the homepage is a countdown image declaring that only 10 ratifications are needed before the Trade Facilitation Agreement enters into force.

tfa-countdown-wto-homepage-30nov16
From wto.org homepage December 1, 2016

What you won’t see is another countdown that should be even more exciting.  Much closer to entering into force is a long overdue amendment on pharmaceutical patents — only three more ratifications are needed. Continue reading “Can EU law really dictate World Trade Organization rules?”

The race for the first ever WTO amendment: some key facts

The first stage of the race has been won. In early 2017, two thirds of World Trade Organization members ratified two amendments. Now it’s up to the rest


By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JULY 31, 2016 | UPDATED March 5, 2018

The World Trade Organization agreements are over 20 years old. Economic and trade needs are changing fast. And yet the agreements have never been updated — until now. Two amendments have reached the target. To achieve that they needed 110 ratifications, two thirds of the WTO’s 164 members.
Continue reading “The race for the first ever WTO amendment: some key facts”

WTO amendment on access to medicines faces EU conundrum

Only three more ratifications are needed for the WTO’s first ever amendment to take effect. Or is it … FOUR?


Note: The “conundrum” was dodged on January 23, 2017 when five countries were officially announced to have ratified the amendment. The total leapt over the targeted 110 to 112. Now that the target has been reached, this blog post will no longer be updated. But the conundrum remains unresolved. More up-to-date information is available here.


By Peter Ungphakorn
FIRST PUBLISHED BY IP-WATCH, APRIL 14, 2016
REVISED AND POSTED HERE JUNE 12, 2016  |  UPDATED NOVEMBER 30, 2016

After waiting for over a decade, the World Trade Organization is finally close to achieving the first ever amendment to its rule-book, with only a handful of members still needing to formally accept new intellectual property provisions dealing with one aspect of access to medicines. Continue reading “WTO amendment on access to medicines faces EU conundrum”